It was January 2002 when we received a call from a HR person at Eskom.
“We have some heavy cultural clashes in a Technical Service Centre (TSC) in the far Northern Province (now the Limpopo Province.) Do you think that you can you do something to change the situation?”
“I am sure we can.” I responded. “What are the challenges?” I asked.
“There are some heavy racial attitudes from all sides. Our cultural mix includes Afrikaans, VaVenda, Sesotho, isiZulu English and SePedi speakers. Mainly male and a few female.”
He pondered for a while and said. “In fact, I don’t really know why I am asking you! When you and your Indian wife arrive there, what are you going to do with a bunch of hardline and old-fashioned Afrikaners?”
“Let’s get this clear,” he said. “You are dealing with:
– Racism and Prejudice
– Group vs group
– Poor Work Ethic
– Lack of Accountability
– Low Morale and Motivation
– Poor Communication
– Backbiting & Gossiping
– Poor Client Service
– Excessive Workplace Disputes."
He continued, "This is a hugely conservative area where old-attitudes die very hard. It could be the worst case that you could take on.”
With due trepidation we took on the challenge and headed off to the small town. As we drew closer we passed a huge flock of vultures, feeding on the carcass of a wild animal. I silently prayed that it was not an ominous sign!
Upon our arrival the depot supervisor greeted us and in an aside, pleaded, “ You must just motivate them. They need it.”
I looked at his stressed face and saw a man in pain. Unsettled, uncomfortable and ready to explode.”
Overnight we set-up the training room and transformed the venue into one of celebration.
The next morning we entered the room, to see separated groups sitting together.
They were grouped by colour, language and level. All in their comfort zones. All groups spiritually, emotionally and physically apart. Then we began to help them to Celebrate Humanity.
2 x 3 day sessions later and the same people were sitting side by side at a family braai. Children played with children, Wives chatted to wives and the men cooked meat and spoke of cars, sports and shared ribald jokes. The separations of the past were no longer there.
They had experienced each other in a fun environment, shared wisdom, seen value in each other, worked as teams, cleared all of their past interpersonal baggage and committed to a code of positive behaviours and equally committed to remove the negative actions from their lives.
A constitution had been mutually developed, agendas created and the team committed to meet on a regular basis.
Their values were peer-developed, peer-accepted and were to be peer-managed. They were on a path of human recovery and their feedback was as follows:-
Group feedback from Circle meeting on 18/3/02:
THE CHANGES THAT I HAVE MADE IN MY LIFE:
* Solving problems before they become big issues.
THE EFFECT ON THE TEAM AND MY RELATIONSHIPS:
* Got to know the people I work with better and to get along with them.
* More open, listen to others, and work together as a team.
* Respect for others and their cultures, understand others better.
* Ask for help from each other, it help to get the work done faster and more efficiently.
* Developed communications skills.
THE EFFECT ON ME AND MY FAMILY RELATIONSHIP:
* To share what you have learned with your family.
* Better communication - holding meeting with the family to discuss financial status.
* Listen more intensively to family members.
15 months after the first intervention, the supervisor sent this feedback, about the initial situation, the Celebrating Humanity course and the workplace situation - at the time of writing:
"I had a group of 30 people from diverse cultures.
They could not get on with each other.
There was continuous friction between the different race groups, and between people from the same race and cultural group. The people were negative and were not satisfied with anything.
Complaints were the order of the day, this also placed our Depot in a bad light with management.
We decided on the Celebrating Humanity training. The people were very negative about the programme initially.
As the course progressed the people’s attitudes changed from negative to positive.
30% of the personnel felt totally threatened by the (mere idea of the) course, mainly those who were most negative, and the rest of the group was neutral about the course.
During the course the whole group of people changed systematically and began to be completely positive towards each other, the company and the supervisor.
Communication, respect and ownership improved from all sides by 100%. The respect between different race groups has been restored.
Some of the people who were negative have changed so much that they have been promoted to higher positions with greater responsibility.
The foundation of the entire course was so successful that the group is now going ahead with a leadership course."
We were surprised!
After such a frightening lead-up to our trip, we were surprised and delighted at the attitudes and the change within the group.
It showed us that all people of our country want to be a part of the future. And all are willing to change, if they are a part of the solution.
Diversity Management - a few concepts
Diversity Management is more an issue of open, respectful participation at all levels, ownership and leadership, as opposed to moving people as if they were chess pieces.
The Chess player theory assumes many mindless pieces each with certain skills and abilities and one controlling brain - dancing cleverly to the moves of the opposition.
African leadership espouses a concept of “Inkosi yinkosi ngababantu” - An African proverb, written in Zulu in this example, which means that a leader is only a leader by virtue of his/ her people. This concept is admirably covered in the book by Mike Boon, The African Way - The Spirit of African Leadership.
Traditional and Western Leadership has a legacy of “I tell - you do.” Although there is a growth in the concept of participative leadership this is not enough.
The young man and lady slouched back in their chairs during a recent 1 day Celebrating Humanity training session.
She spoke up, “This is brilliant. But where are the managers and directors?”.
“Yes.” he said, “They always send us on courses, yet it is they who need the most change. They just decide that we must be trained. And they don’t know what it is about, nor do they follow the “new” way.”
People are not Pawns
Simply put team members are no longer willing to be seen and used as "Human resources."
They can and will be fully participating members of any organisation as long as:
* there is full ownership for personal behaviours and actions, from all members of the organisation - from board level to the general workforce.
* all team members are valued, feel valuable and value the uniqueness and difference in others.
* all are part of a team where everyone operates within a peer-selected, peer-managed set of positive and values and behaviours and actively exclude non-acceptable behaviours from their interactions.
* a peer-controlled inter-personal values-based structure is constituted and managed on a regular basis.
* A separate set of organisational values/ principles has been developed and accepted by all role players to ensure that issues such as client relationships, theft, corruption, fraud, professionalism are all adequately covered by company regulations.
* It is critical that no-one is above the rules of inter-personal respect and organisational values.
A few simple differences between Leaders and Managers
* Leaders lead and work with people to create change.
Leaders are accountable to self, team and company.
Traditional managers manage resources.
They decide or act out high level decisions. They are only accountable to their seniors.
What about you and your team?
Are you a manager or a leader? Are your departmental and divisional heads, leaders or managers?
A people-based issue
Aside from the legislated issues of Employment Equity and Affirmative action, managing diversity is as much a people-based issue, as it is a matter of leadership actions and skills.
It is critical to Lead Diversity and Transformation.
People can no longer be forced into change. Why even try? It is so simple to involve them in the process of managing transformation.
Brian V Moore©
(T) 27 (0)31 2053668
July 10, 2005